To the Celts, the Elder (also known as the "Tree of Faeries," "Old Gal," "Pipe Tree" and "Lady Ellhorn," among others) was the symbol of both death and rebirth. Its twigs were said to enable the wearer to see spirits and experience visions. Justice was dispensed by the Druids beneath this tree. Much like the Winter Solstice itself, it highlighted a time of evolution. The Druids believed that it was during this period that their Sun or Solar Spirit was being held prisoner. It was also considered a time of trouble and indicative of the struggle for supremacy. By virtue of being considered sacred to the faeries, Elder branches were once hung above stables in order to protect horses from evil spirits. Paradoxically, in some parts of Europe, this tree was once generally regarded as an ally of witches. For many generations, it was thought to be unlucky to burn Elder and an omen of death to bring it indoors. In addition, it was also believed that anyone who cut the wood of this tree risked being turned into stone. In one Christian legend, it was from the branches of an Elder that Judas hanged himself after the betrayal of Christ...at which point the Elder forever lost its ability to grow straight and strong. In another, it is said that the cross upon which Christ was crucified was made of Elder...and the reason why the tree has stood in stooped remorse ever since. Some Irish legends claim that Saint Patrick used a branch of Elder in the form of a sacred rod in order to drive out all the serpents from Ireland. Often planted close to the home, the Elder was thought to offer protection against evil influences and lightning...based on the fact that the tree itself never seemed to get struck and it was hoped such immunity would extend to the nearly dwellings. In ancient times, it was believed that negative forces would be attracted by someone who fell asleep beneath an Elder tree. While slumbering, it was thought such a person would suffer horrific nightmares and become delirious upon waking.
The Elder, a a common member of the Honeysuckle family, frequently displays a sprawling habit and can grow to 30 feet in damp clearings or along the edge of woods. In general, many liberally-branching stems emerge from the ground. In essence, it is considered too small and feeble to be a true tree, while being too large and airy to be categorized as a bush...essentially falling somewhere inbetween the two. The light-gray bark of the Elder is rough and covered with wart-like breathing pores. The branches are flexible and can be broken without much trouble. The inner pith of the twigs is akin to cork and may be easily transformed into instant popguns and pipes...thus endearing this tree to countless generations of children. The wood of the Elder has never been put to many uses, being too weak for building material, but it was once believed that flutes made from Elder held the power to enchant spirits. The leaves are feathery and emit a foul smell which is apparently useful for warding off flies. Often planted as a hedgerow tree, cows appear to be particularly appreciative of the shade offered by the Elder, especially on days when swarms of insects can be irritatingly bothersome. The tiny white flowers of the Elder bloom in bunches and exude a sweet and heavy scent, which is slightly narcotic and distinctly heady. The Elder's flowers, though difficult to dry, are the most medicinally useful part of the plant, having been used as a cure for eilepsy, warts, toothache and cleansing of the blood. By the end of Summer, the Elder's blossoms have developed into drooping bunches of small purplish-black berries, which are a welcome source of food for the birds in the area. Elderberries are a rich source of vitamins and in Britain and much of Europe, still count among the most popular of the wild-foods. A plant which loves nitrogen, the Elder thrives on organic wastes, and since its damaged branches regrow, it has long been a symbol of the circle of life and rebirth...a new beginning from the old. Pregnant women would often kiss the Elder to ensure good fortune and health for their unborn child.
There are two distinct types of Elder individuals (a division which relates to all Celtic Tree Signs). The "new moon" character is associated with the first two weeks of a sign and the "full moon" character is associated with the last two weeks.
The "new moon" Elder individual is usually more outspoken and impulsive than his or her "full moon" counterpart. Such people are extremely persuasive orators who constantly challenge injustices or what they perceive to be corrupt powers. The "full moon" Elder individual possesses great vision and inclined to operate more successfully in the background rather than pursuing a confrontational approach.
The Elder individual evolves gradually during his or her lifetime. In youth, such people are inclined to waste much time and energy on worthless ventures or projects. They are often fortunate individuals who frequently benefit at an early age from inheritances. However, this usually only encourages their extravagant tastes and indulgences. With a basic restlessness and/or insatiable curiosity, Elder individuals are drawn into the study of profound subjects and are prone to travel great distances in order to further their knowledge. Elder individuals are self-sufficient, lively and outspoken. They dislike routine and refuse to be pressured by others. Highly energetic with a great deal of stamina, they thrive on change and crave constant mental and physical challenge.
In later life, the Elder individual commands respect and possesses a great deal of patience. However, Elders can sometimes be heartless and cruel, and have a tendency to lack good judgment in their choice of friends. Ambitious, with a driving force to win at all costs, Elder characters are often outspoken and prone to speak without first thinking, but they possess a constructive approach to life and are frequently drawn to careers in the military or journalism. The true strength of Elders lie in the instinctive knowledge of when they are right and others are wrong, coupled with their inherent inclination toward self-discipline. The Elder individual is open in his or her relationships, but tends not to fall in love very deeply, seemingly able to remove their emotions from most situations. While finding it difficult to tame their restless natures enough to take on parenthood, Elders do make wonderful uncles and aunts. It is important that Elder indiviudals learn to use change as a positive force in their lives in order to avoid becoming reckless and confused.
Physical Goal: To learn that although one aspect of life may be over, another begins anew.
Mental Goal: To learn that changes from the old will bring creativity...will usher in new ideas and thoughts.
Spiritual Goal: To learn that links are continually formed as new phases of life and experience repeat themselves in different forms that lead to renewal.
Amergin Verse: "I am a Wave of the Sea"
Ogham Association: Ruis
Letter Character: "R"
Month: Makeup days of the Thirteenth month in the Celtic Ogham, which was only three days long and ended at Samhain.
Alias: "Moon of Completeness"
Magickal Properties: Exorcism, Prosperity, Banishment and Healing
Some Famous Elder People: Woody Allen, Tyra Banks, Kim Basinger, Beethoven, Sir Winston Churchill, Jimi Hendrix, Mary Queen of Scots, Jim Morrison and Frank Sinatra.
Gemstone: The Elder gemstone is the Jet, sometimes called "Black Amber." It is an organic jewel rather than a gemstone, being a variety of Lignite, formed from the wood of cone-bearing plants which have fossilized...a type of coal intermediate between peat and anthracite which is so hard and uniform that it may be carved and polished to look like black glass, even though it radiates no light. The word "Jet" originates from Gagas in Asia Minor where it was first discovered. A grounding and balancing stone said to carry a negative electrical charge, Jet was believed to be excellent in the drawing of power and in providing knowledge to the wearer. When combined with Amber, Jet was one of the traditional stones of the High Priestess who, in some cultures, was the only person allowed to wear both stones together. In ancient times, Jet was often burned and the fumes inhaled in order to alleviate various conditions, including edema, colds, female disorders and hysteria. Jet fumes were once also used to detect the loss of virginity...although the exact method of this practice has been lost over the passage of time. The consumption of water into which a piece of Jet had been dipped was believed at one time to cure the pangs of childbirth, and powdered Jet mixed with wax to form a salve was used for dental problems. A mixture of Jet in wine was formerly used to relieve toothache and also served as a fixative for loose teeth.
Traditionally known to be a "one person" stone, Jet was thought to ward off evil (especially magickal evil), lift fear and cure depression. These stones were considered a link between the physical and the spiritual and employed to balance the emtions, as well as to repel plague, fever and negativity and offer protection from thunderstorms. In Ancient Greece, Jet was a sacred substance and in Assyria, it was considered to be the Gods' favored jewel. Widely used as a talisman or amulet, medieval legend credits these medallions with supernatural powers...the ability to gain complete control over the natural elements (fire, air, earth and water), for example. Given as a gift, the amulet could allegedly place a person under the power of the giver's mental control. In Ancient Britain and Ireland, Jet was considered an extremely lucky stone and housewives burned it to ensure the safe return of their sailor husbands. Jet was one of the first materials to be carved into crosses and made into rosaries during the early days of the Christian Church. In the Victorian Era, Jet beads became very fashionable as trimming for women's clothing and the stone itself worn as mourning jewelry. Wearers also carried the stone to ease arthritis of the knee and to prevent baldness. The use of Jet for amulets and ornaments was once world-wide and small figurines carved from Jet have been found in the tombs of Ancient Egypt, Japan and in the Pueblos of the American Indians. Jet in its natural form is found most abundantly in England, France, Germany and Spain and is used today chiefly in the manufacture of buttons and costume jewelry.
Flower: The flower of the Elder is the Dandelion, also known as "Priest's Crown" and "Swine's Snout." The Dandelion does not grow in the Southern Hemisphere, but is found in all parts of the North Temperate Zone...in pastures, meadows and on waste ground. Farmers consider it to be a troublesome weed, given its prolifically dispersing seeds. The flowers of the Dandelion are a bright golden-yellow and its leaves are shiny and hairless, each cut into great jagged teeth which resemble the canine teeth of a lion, thus giving this plant its familiar name...a corruption of the French Dent de Lion. The Dandelion holds an important place among the honey-producing plants, furnishing a plentiful quantity of both pollen and nectar in the early Spring. With the withering of the petals, the seeds, crowned with their tufts of hair, appear and are soon mature enough to be blown from the stalk by the slightest breeze. This is the "Dandelion Clock" long loved by children, who will blow upon it until all the seeds are released...telling the time of day by the number of puffs necessary to disperse every seed. Small birds are extremely fond of Dandelion seeds and Pigs will devour the entire plant with much gluttony. Goats will also eat the Dandelion, but it does not appear to be palatable to either Sheep or Cattle. Horses also refuse to touch the plant but it is a valuable food for Rabbits and makes an excellent meal for this furry creature during Spring and particularly during breeding seasons. The young leaves were once consumed by the French in Spring salads and may still feature in salad dishes and sandwiches today in some parts of the Continent. Full-grown leaves, however, are far too bitter to be eaten. Dried Dandelion leaves are often employed as an ingredient in many digestive or diet drinks and herb beers...Dandelion Stout being a particular favorite among the workers in the industrial towns of the Midlands Area in England. Dandelion coffee is said to help keep the liver, kidneys and bowels in healthy working order. The first mention of the Dandelion in a medicinal sense was during the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries when it was employed by Arabian physicians. Since it is a non-poisonous plant, rather large doses of its preparations may be taken with no ill effects.
Celestial Body: The celestial body associated with the Elder is Saturn ("Sadorn"), an ancient Italian God of Reaping, Fertility and Agriculture. He is also credited with being the God of Time.
Deity: The Elder deity is Pryderi, son of Pwyll Penn Annwn and the Goddess Rhiannon. According to legend, Pryderi was stolen away as a newborn infant by a nameless fiend who, upon a horse-thieving expedition, dropped the babe once more into the world when it was struck by a blow from the Guardian of the Horses. Though not one of the official number among the Children of Llyr (one of the families of Gods found in Welsh Mythology associated with the Sea), Pryderi does appear to have been an honorary member by virtue of close association. Pryderi took the side of Bran in the conflict with Matholwch and was one of the seven survivors of that battle. Traditionally, Pryderi represented the dark forces in opposition to (and as part of) the light. He was defeated in the Battle of the Trees and is equated with King Pelles who lost the Grail to the archetypal forces of light. According to legend, Pyderi met his death at the hands of Gwydion, son of Don, in a single combat. He is said to be buried at Maen Tyriawg, above Y Felenrhyd.
Also associated with the Elder is The Cailleach, also known as Cailleach Beara and the Crone of Beare. In some parts of Ancient Britain, this deity was the Goddess of Winter, depicted as a blue-faced hag who was reborn every October 31 (Samhain). She brought the snow until the Goddess Brigit annually deposed her and she eventually turned to stone every April 30 (Beltaine). In later times, the mythical witch-like figure of "Black Annis" is believed to have derived from The Cailleach. An ancient Goddess of the pre-Celtic people, The Cailleach was thought to control the Seasons and the Weather, as well as being the Goddess of Earth, Sky, Moon and Sun. In Scotland, The Cailleach was also known as Scota (from which the name Scotland originates) and said to be the earliest known ancestor of the Scots. Initially, Scotland was called Caledonia or the "Land Given By Cailleach." Scota was probably once a Mother Goddess in Egypt, but her myth and origins have become shadowy with the passage of time. She was generally thought to be the daughter of the Pharaoh Cingris, but from that point, her history seems to diverge...even merging with Christian biblical figures. In many tales, she was the mother of Amergin the Bard; in others, she was the mother of Goidel, who gave his name to the Gaels. She is said to have died fighting the Tuatha de Danaan in the Milesian invasion and thought to be buried near a dolmen (a primitive stone altar) in County Kerry, Ireland.
The Black Horse - A popular Celtic totem animal, the Horse was sacred to the Goddesses Epona and Rhiannon. Thought to be a faithful guide to the Otherworlds, it symbolized stamina, endurance and faithfulness.
The Badger - An animal said to possess unyielding courage in the face of danger, the Badger was noted for its tenacity. In the Welsh tale of Pwyll's courting of Rhiannon, a Badger was mentioned as a guide during dreaming. The Badger was symbolic of the fight for individual rights and the defense of personal spiritual ideas.
The Raven - A symbol of healing and protection, it was cautioned that great care should be taken when dealing with this important totem animal of the Celts. In Ireland, the Raven was associated with the battlefield and such Goddesses as the Morrigu or later Welsh Morrigan (as was the Crow). This bird was also connected to Bran the Blessed...in Welsh, "Bran" means "Raven." Although its reputation was sometimes dubious, the Raven was considered an oracular Bird, often representing the upsets and crises of life which were deemed necessary for anything new to be created.
November 25-December 1: Those born between these two dates also fall under the lesser influence of a secondary tree...the Ash, whose motto is "Always Aiming Higher" or "The Ambition." Ash individuals are uncommonly attractive, vivacious, impulsive and demanding. They do not care for criticism, can be egosistic and love to "play with fire." Ambitious, intelligent and talented, Ash people are prone to allow the brain to rule the head, but they do take partnerships very seriously. It is important to an Ash individual that he or she maintain personal identity, freedom and independence. Nonetheless, Ashes make for trustworthy mates who are faithful, prudent and reliable. Ash people probably care more about the future than those born under any other jurisdiction and are concerned about making progress. If they set themselves a target which requires committment, then they are willing to give up many things in order to reach that goal. At the peak of glory, Ash individuals often prove to possess a genuine greatness and they will undertake tremendous efforts in order to help others.
December 2-December 11: Those born on this date also fall under the lesser influence of a secondary tree...the Hornbeam, whose motto is "Monument of Loyalty" or "The Good Taste." Hornbeam individuals possess a cool beauty and exquisite taste. Although Hornbeams are concerned about their appearance, they are far from egotistical. They like their reasonable and disciplined lives to be as comfortable as possible. Hornbeam people look for kindess and acknowledgment in an emotional partner, though they are seldom happy with their own personal feelings. They are prone to mistrust and are never sure about the decisions they make, although they are the most conscientious characters. There is a tendency for Hornbeams to shoulder the responsibility for mistakes of others, it being more important in their eyes to promote tolerance and maintain harmony rather than respect rigid rules which demand a scapegoat.
December 12-December 21: Those born on this date also fall under the lesser influence of a secondary tree...the Fig, whose motto is "Soul of Kindess" or "The Sensibility." Fig individuals are very strong, independent and somewhat self-willed. They love life, their family and animals but cannot bear to be contradicted. Something of a social butterfly, Figs possess a good sense of humor, practical talent and intelligence. However, there is a tendency toward idleness and laziness. The sensitivity of Fig people can make them find life rather bitter, but they have the necesssary strength to preserve a human susceptibility. Born on one of the shortest or longest days of the year, it may be more difficult for Fig individuals to find the right balance between spontaneity and reason...quietness and restlessness...sweetness and bitterness...than it is for others. It is in the Fig nature to switch back-and-forth between the two sides of this flexible personality, along with a tendency to exaggerate from time-to-time.
December 22: Those born on this date also fall under the lesser influence of a secondary tree...the Beech, whose motto is "Biding Time" or "The Creative." Beech individuals have good taste and are concerned about personal appearance. They are good organizers of life and career, but tend to be somewhat materialistic. Beech people are good leaders, but ones who are hesitant to take unnecessary risks. They make for splended lifetime companions and are religious about keeping fit and in good health.